Misbah hails 'amazing victory'
Who would have thought that four days of dull Test cricket would suddenly transform into a thriller on day five at Sharjah Cricket Stadium? And, more surprisingly, who would expect Pakistan to become the fastest team to chase a target of 300-plus target in history? Both things happened, as Pakistan achieved a daunting total of 302 in 57.3 overs at 5.25 runs per over to level the series at 1-1 and stun Sri Lanka. It was truly, as described by Pakistan's captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, an "amazing victory".
"The biggest victory for me is 3-0 against England but, as a match, it's a very, very big victory for the team," Misbah said. "As a game, this was one of my best victories but still I think I rate very highly our 3-0 victory against England, [when] we whitewashed the No. 1 team. But the match we won today - I guess we haven't won chasing like that, so it's an amazing victory."
The series in UAE had been a tedious one but day five of the third and final Test turned into a dramatic contest. In the final session, with loud music suddenly filling the stadium, Pakistan went at a rapid pace to reach the target. Azhar Ali, the No. 3, blazed 103 off 137 balls, with six fours, and Misbah remained unbeaten on 68 as Pakistan won with nine balls remaining, for their second-highest successful run chase in Test matches.
Misbah said his men lived up to expectation and played like a unit. Dav Whatmore, Pakistan's outgoing coach who has now finished his contract, may not have been expecting such a send-off on his last day but Misbah was pleased that Whatmore could leave on a high, despite failing to win a Test series during his time in charge.
"It's always important, because he had been working with us for the last two years, so we have an attachment and you always want this type of thing if somebody leaves you," Misbah said. "He finishes on a good note, so I was really praying for that, we should win it for Pakistan and win it for Dav so that we can say we have given him a good send off. It was really a much-needed win for us as a team, to level the series, and to send off Dav it was also important.
"It's a great effort and all the players showed the will to win the game, so I am really happy, especially for the youngsters. Azhar Ali's performance, Ahmed Shehzad in the first innings and Sarfraz [Ahmed in the second], Mohammad Talha bowled really well, so it's really pleasing for Pakistan cricket."
Pakistan seemed to have given up on winning the game, as things coasted on day four, but after bowling Sri Lanka out for 214 in the morning session, the players made a positive decision over lunch. "There was no pressure, a clear message was there when our innings started. We sat together and in the meeting we decided we are going for it at any cost, whether it turned into 2-0, no problem, but we will try to make it 1-1," Misbah said. "I think there was clarity in the minds of our players, and all were positive, me too, especially after youngsters had done their partnership, it was easy, you [just] had to score run a ball. Thanks god we have won the match."
Pakistan's openers gave the team a perfect start, hitting 35 in six and a half overs, before Shehzad lofting to deep square leg. The run rate kept on fluctuating but remained around five runs per over throughout, apart from the third-wicket stand between Azhar and Younis Khan, when the scoring rate started to dip for a while. But Sarfraz, promoted to No. 5, and Azhar swaggered along during their partnership of 89 in 14.5 overs.
"It was easy for us once Sarfraz played that innings with Azhar, that was an important partnership and brought down the required run rate to almost 5.5," Misbah said. "They also cut down the target to 120-something, so that was simple, we could continue to play at the same rate. Don't let it go up [above] run-a-ball, that was our main target. Nothing much was happening with the wicket so that was the target."
Pakistan's next Test series is in nine months, against Australia, and Misbah said that was not ideal. "When you win Test matches, you gain confidence ... had there been a Test series in near future, it would have benefitted us. This team has been notching such victories, like winning against England and winning a Test match against South Africa."
"Except for Younis Khan, we don't have many players who have played more than 50 Test matches that's why you see sometimes we suffer collapses and we face problems and our performances are not consistent. Whenever they play up to their potential, they win such matches, if they play consistently and gain experience their performances will get better and better."
Misbah said playing Australia after a gap of nine months will be challenging. "Australia, South Africa, England they are all very professional teams and against them you need to be focused and you have to play with a lot of hard work because they come out with lots of plans. So, I think it will be a big challenge for us to play against Australia but it would also be challenging for them to face our spinners in these conditions. I think we will try to play the way we played against South Africa and repeat the same performance against them."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets here